New Delhi: Stiff political opposition and violent protests against Special Economic Zones in several parts of the country could not deter the Centre from going the whole hog to clear such enclaves as almost all the well-known industrial houses joined the bandwagon in 2007.
Nandigram remained in headlines throughout the year despite the West Bengal government cancelling the SEZ project of Indonesia’s Salem Group in January following violence and political pressure on Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.
While the fire in Nandigram could not be doused and farmers’ protests erupted in other states such as Maharashtra, Orissa and Haryana, the Board of Approval in the Commerce Ministry picked up pace of clearing the SEZ proposals, especially after the Uttar Pradesh elections early this year.
As the number of such enclaves approved was about to touch 600, the UPA government at the Centre did take damage control measures to convey an impression that it was sensitive to farmers’ outcry over land acquisition.
Separate ministerial panels examined the issues at the heart of controversies. An Empowered Group of Ministers, headed by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, decided to impose a ceiling of 5,000 hectares on multi-product zones, while the one headed by Rural Development Minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh came out with proposed changes in the Land Acquisition Act and Resettlement and Rehabilitation Policy.
The government recently introduced in Parliament separate bills for amending the Land Acquisition Act and giving a statutory back-up to the R&R policy. The proposed changes in law and policy provide for paying market related prices to land owners displaced by the zones.